Medicine Wheel Passage

Plaque marking the site as the Medicine Wheel National Landmark

The Medicine Wheel Passage Scenic Byway is a 27-mile route that follows US Highway 14A from the western boundary of Bighorn National Forest up into the Big Horn Mountains to Burgess Junction where it meets with the Bighorn Scenic Byway. This is a journey from grass-and-sagebrush-covered high altitude desert into conifer and aspen forests high in the mountains.

The name comes from the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, a stone circle built long ago and still revered by many Native Americans. This was a place for ceremonies, a place to commune with the Great Spirit and seek visions and strong spiritual medicine. The Medicine Wheel was built near the summit of Medicine Mountain. It's a most-likely pre-Columbian structure about 25 yards in diameter with 28 spokes connecting the central rock cairn with the rim. Along or near the rim are six other rock cairns of varying sizes.

An astronomer investigated the site in 1972 and determined that various pairs of the cairns are oriented to determine specific astronomical events, like solstices. As archaeologists think the Medicine Wheel was built sometime between 1200 and 1700 CE, the layout is pretty accurate. The US Forest Service has built a walkway around the site and fenced it off with stone pillars and ropes. Many visitors to the site leave pieces of cloth tied to the ropes, kind of like Tibetan prayer flags waving in the wind.

Along the paved highway there is signage at the turnoff indicating where the Medicine Wheel is. It's 1.5 miles on a gravel road from the turnoff to the parking area. Then you walk another 1.5 miles to the Medicine Wheel itself. The parking area is at about 9,400 feet while the Medicine Wheel is at about 9,600 feet, and there's some up-and-down in between. The views in all directions are simply incredible and there are several benches in place along the way to make it easier to relax and enjoy them.

Looking back down a canyon after climbing part way into the Bighorn Mountains
Looking west from the western slopes
A view of the Bighorn Mountains from the Medicine Wheel area
The Bighorn Mountains from the Medicine Wheel
A view of grassy hills and forest beneath craggy cliffs, just above Burgess Junction
Coming down to Burgess Junction
Photos courtesy of TheArmchairExplorer, CCA-by-SA 4.0 License
Area map of the Bighorn Scenic Byway

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Map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!